Early Voting, Voter Turnout and Ballot Secrecy
North Carolina offers early voting as an option for voters, in addition to election day voting and no excuse absentee by mail voting. Some voters have questions about how secure early voting is, and whether their vote will count, also whether it allows people to cast more than one ballot.
What is Early Voting? It is a form of in-person absentee voting. The voter casts a ballot in front of an elections official before the official poll date. One-Stop Absentee Voting which begins the third Thursday before the election and ends the Saturday prior to the election.
North Carolina allows for residents to register and vote during the One Stop Absentee Voting time period. For more information, click here.
Voting occurs at select sites in each county, with each county being required to have at least one early voting site, which can be located at the County Board of Elections facility. Availablity by county varies (usually 4-10 hours a day).
Is early voting risky, is it safe, is it prone to fraud? I believe that early voting in North Carolina does have the checks and balances needed to make it as safe as voting on election day. A voter wrote to ask me: "What documentation do poll workers use to verify that someone who has voted early or by absentee ballot does not vote again in their assigned precinct?"
North Carolina has checks and balances to prevent double voting from occuring. Up front, we have the poll book records to keep track of who has voted already. These are the records of names of voters who have come to the polling place to vote. Some counties use electronic poll books or laptop computers, and others use paper poll books. To ensure that no one casts a ballot twice, the "one stop" ballots cast are "retrievable" ballots.
Most voters do not realize that when they vote early, their ballot is tied directly to them. Approximately 1/3 of all North Carolinians voted early in 2004.
Two NC election officials describe early voting and ballot secrecy issues --
*Secrecy of ballot?
There is no question that people voting absentee or one-stop give up some of the privacy of the ballot. It is marked with a number that can identify the ballot. However, every effort is made to protect the secrecy of the ballot because for instance if the board is looking at it, they are only seeing the number not a name.
*Problem that someone might vote out of precinct?
People vote outside their precinct for a variety of reasons, some are that they never changed their address with us, or some just don't want to go to the correct precinct and prefer to go to some place next to their work or where they perceive may be closer to their home. Given the uncertainty regarding provisional ballots and what should count or not, we must be able to either remove all or a portion of the voters ballot if it is determined they are not eligible to vote at that location. That is the purpose of provisionals anyway and any vote for which the voter is entitled to vote should be counted.
The ballot can be removed from the machine if need be.
*what reasons dictate the removal of a early vote ballot from the machine?
The vote is tied to the voter even on optical scan/paper ballots - we are required to put the ID number on the ballot itself (or enter it into the DRE before the voter votes). The same process is designated on absentee ballots. The reason for this is that absentee ballots including one-stop voters must be approved by the board and can be challenged by any voter. So at the absentee meeting, if it is determined by the board that the voter is ineligble for whatever reason, the ballot could then be removed. Also if the voter votes on election day (which shouldn't happen but sometimes does) the absentee or one-stop ballot can then be removed and the vote subtracted so that the voter does not have their ballot counted twice.
County official's description of early voting on Direct Record Electronic (DREs, touchscreen or pushbutton)
I have no problems with DRE systems in early voting because you can track and recreate each distinct vote as it is always tied to the name of the voter in the process, and the vote does not get randomized (and made anonymous) as it does in a general ballot. I can spot check and audit back to the voter's individual marks in an early voting DRE use (a big part of my role as a guarantor of the process, I think) - I can't in a general ballot situation with DREs currently.
During early voting, we have been told by election officials that on DREs, at least - the vote is tied to the voter, that you can tie the name to the actual ballot, and officials can look at that ballot and see how you voted.
Next, I have been told by Don Wright, (General Counsel for the NC State Board of Elections) that the voting machines used for early voting cannot be used on election day, because they are programmed differently.
*Why would that matter?
Early voting machines contain the entire ballots for all precincts rather than the individual precinct ballots so that anyone in the county can vote on them regardless of where they live. Also we protect the integrity of the machines by not using them until after canvass where possible in order that if there is a problem we can go back and look at it and know nothing has changed since election day or since early voting.
You can also review North Carolina election law, although the references to one stop voting probably need to be updated to reflect that all of our voting systems have "retrievable" ballots, since we passed our paper ballot law in August 2005.
For more detailed legal language see this file of NC Election Laws (rather large PDF) and refer to page 236.
Remember, whatever the process, whether it is casting a ballot, registering to vote, or voting early, its all about checks and balances. And remember, each of the 100 Counties in North Carolina have non partisan Election Directors to administer elections, and they have bi partisan Board of Elections Members, appointed by your political parties to oversea policy decisions. This setup provides great oversight of the process.
Voter turnout -
In September 2004, the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate published a report stating that "no excuse absentee voting and early voting actually hurt voter turnout..pose other risks to the health ofthe American political system....It is incandescently clear that the turnout problem is not one of procedure but of motivation and it is to this problem that the majority ofattention and energy should be devoted."
Importance of the Secret Ballot --
The secret ballot is a voting method in which a voter's choices are confidential. The key aim is to ensure the voter records a sincere choice by forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation or bribery. It is also known as the Australian ballot, because it originated in Australia during the 1850s.
The system is one means of achieving the goal of political privacy. Secret ballots are suitable for many different voting systems.
In the most basic form, the system provides for pre-printed ballot papers with the name of the candidates and respective checkbox. Provisions are made at the polling place for the voter to record their preferences in secret. These ballots are then placed into sealed boxes and emptied later for counting. The ballots are specifically designed to prevent anyone from linking voter to ballot.
More information about the Secret Ballot at Wikipedia